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Canucks lament Game 7 loss, turn focus to next year

by Dhiren Mahiban / NHL.com
VANCOUVER -- Friday was supposed to be the day the Canucks paraded the Stanley Cup through the streets of downtown Vancouver, not the day to be holding exit meetings and final media availability.

The Canucks, the Presidents' Trophy winners, shattered many franchise records during their 40th anniversary season, but came one win shy of taking home in the ultimate prize – the organization's first Stanley Cup.

Despite the disappointment, many called it a good learning experience for the group, most of whom hadn't played past the second round before.

"You work hard all year obviously to try to get to the ultimate goal and to fall short like that, just by one game, is tough," goaltender Roberto Luongo said. "At the same time, I think it's something that's probably going to make our team stronger and even hungrier for next season."

Added captain Henrik Sedin: "I think it's going to hurt until we step on the ice again. It's still tough to swallow this, but we got to move on and I think after a few weeks you might sit back and look at it a little bit different.

"I think the core group is here, a lot of guys are going to be around for a number of years. That's a good thing for us."

During the regular season the Canucks set new team marks for wins (54) and points (117) while picking up the team's first ever Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals allowed (185) and the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team during the regular season.

GM Mike Gillis, and coach Alain Vigneault, along with Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Luongo will all attend the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, hoping to collect hardware for their regular-season performances.

"We felt we had all the ingredients necessary. That being said … I think there's always something that you want to improve. What that is, I don't know," Luongo said. "We were very happy with our group. It's definitely the best team I've ever been on."

In the playoffs, the Canucks managed to get past the Chicago Blackhawks, who had haunted them the past two springs. Vancouver then defeated the Nashville Predators to get past the second round for the first time in 17 years and bounced the San Jose Sharks in five games to earn just their third berth in the Stanley Cup Final. They won the first two games against Boston, but wound up one victory short.

After a season that saw the Canucks win 69 games, playoffs and regular season combined, it'll be the one that got away that will be heavily scrutinized.

"I think it's unfortunate, and we're not going to use it as an excuse, but in the final it wasn't really reflective of the team that we had during the season for a variety of reasons and when you begin to lose players, it's part of playoff hockey, it's the war of attrition," Gillis said. "I don't think it's necessarily fair to say ‘OK you failed.'

"We failed with players that we had counted on the whole year that allowed us to lead the League and win the Presidents' Trophy."

Throughout the postseason the Sedins and Luongo faced their share of criticism.

Luongo allowed 18 goals in the four losses to the Bruins and finished the playoffs with a 15-10 record to go along with his .914 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average.

On Friday he admitted he's begun to learn to live with the criticism.

"It comes with the territory. I think I've gotten to the point where I know being a goaltender in this market – it's going to happen, and I'm fine with that. I'm OK with that. I understand it," he said.  "As an athlete, I play to win the Cup and I try to be as professional as I can, work as hard as I could every day -- and obviously my main goal is to bring a cup to this city.

"Anything else is really not in my control, I can't be the one to assess whether it's right or wrong. I can only be the one to go out there, play hard and do the best that I can."

The Sedins finished the Stanley Cup Final with just 2 goals and 3 assists between them, but led the team in points throughout the playoffs -- Henrik with 19 assists and 22 points while Daniel had 9 goals and 20 points.

"I think it's rightfully," Henrik said of the criticism. "We're going to have to prove people wrong again, we've done it throughout our career. I'd rather take ‘We can't step up in the Stanley Cup Final' than ‘We're not showing up in the regular season.'

"We've proved to everyone we can go deep in the playoffs. Now it's about winning, and that's going to be fun."

The benefit of playing into mid-June is the team has less time to dwell on the loss before the 2011-12 season starts, but with 17 free agents (restricted and unrestricted) to deal, with it should be a busy off-season for Canucks management.

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